Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

Font Size

Autism/MMR Vaccine Study Faked: FAQ

Facts Behind Journal's Claim That Autism Study Was Hoax
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Jan. 6, 2011 -- The discredited study purportedly linking the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism wasn't just poor science, it was outright fraud, a leading U.K. medical journal claims.

The man behind the 1998 study, Andrew Wakefield, MD, continues to defend it. But 10 of his co-authors have repudiated it. Last year it was formally retracted by The Lancet. And after a months-long hearing, Wakefield and his senior research advisor had their medical licenses revoked for unethical treatment of patients.

Vaccine-Autism Study Called Fraud

More WebMD coverage of the BMJ article calling a controversial vaccine study "fraudulent."

But now a lengthy investigation by U.K. investigative reporter Brian Deer finds that Wakefield deliberately faked the study. Deer's findings, first published in the Sunday Times, now appear in BMJ -- accompanied by a scathing editorial by BMJ editors Fiona Godlee and colleagues.

"Deer unearthed evidence of clear falsification," the editorial says. "Who perpetrated this fraud? There is no doubt that it was Wakefield's."

Despite the fact that it involved only 12 patients, the Wakefield study had a huge effect. MMR vaccination rates plummeted in the U.K., Europe, and parts of the U.S. Wakefield continues to have a following among parents who believe, in spite of strong medical evidence to the contrary, that vaccination is a major cause of autism.

The entire affair raises a number of questions. Here is WebMD's FAQ:

Why is the 1998 Wakefield study important?

Children often exhibit the first unmistakable signs of autism when they are toddlers -- an age at which they are receiving their childhood vaccination series. Moreover, some children display regressive autism: They seem normal, but then dramatically lose the ability to speak and to relate to others.

By 1998, a number of parents became convinced that their children's autism was caused by the MMR vaccine. They hired lawyers to sue vaccine makers for damages. But there was little scientific evidence linking the vaccine to autism.

Wakefield's study was the first to suggest a plausible link between MMR vaccination and autism. The study suggested that the vaccine caused a gastrointestinal syndrome in susceptible children, and that this syndrome triggered autism.

The study purported to look at a series of 12 children treated consecutively at a large London hospital. Wakefield and colleagues reported that all 12 children had intestinal abnormalities and developmental regression beginning one to 14 days after MMR vaccination.

Despite the small size of the study, it led to widespread fear of the MMR vaccine. Measles once again became endemic in the U.K. and in other European nations.

1 | 2 | 3

Today on WebMD

girl at window
Symptoms within the first 2 years of a child’s life.
boy playing a violin
How is this condition similar to autism?
Mother and daughter indoors playing
Play therapy may undo the disorder in at-risk babies.
preschool age girl sitting at desk
What causes this rare form of autism?
High Functioning Autism And Asperge Syndrome
Gluten Free Diet Slideshow
Mother and daughter indoors playing
man on bicycle
girl at window
Mother hugging teenage son
Understanding Rett Syndrome
Home Care Tips

WebMD Special Sections